By Jeffery M. Leving
It’s sad to think that with the new year here, many children find the possibility of an active, involved father in their lives as remote as the chance of finding a pet reindeer under the tree.
According to a recent survey of 2,000 Christmas shoppers, the only thing that many kids wanted this yuletide was a dad. The UK’s Daily Telegraph reported that a father was the 10th most desired item on children’s holiday wish lists, which also included requests for snow and exotic pets, like horses and reindeer.
The arrival of each new year reminds us that time is precious, and time spent with children, who change so quickly and whose fanciful notions about reindeer soon harden into more realistic ideas about life, is the most precious time of all.
In the 1960s, I was among the 8 percent of American children growing up without a father. Today that number has swelled to a mind-blowing 23 percent.
My friend Arthur Kallow lost his father in 2003. His parents had been married 58 years, and his father was around all his life. Like so many, he realizes how precious his time with his father was only now, when it’s too late.
It’s all too easy for men who find themselves in a divorce or a breakup to simply do what society tells them to do: Start sending money and settle for an alternate-weekend relationship with their children, if that.
Even if the split goes amicably, the emotional pain that surrounds a breakup can make it all too easy for a father to be inconsistent or emotionally absent in his relationship with his children going forward, because in many cases our society expects little else.
This New Year’s Day, I urge all fathers not to fall into the traps that failed relationships and society lay out for us. Make a resolution to be there for your kids, no matter what your situation is.
Study after study has shown that, even when a mother’s relationship to her child is controlled for, children who have emotionally engaged, interactive, “hands-on” fathers have higher self-esteem and greater empathy for others, and show better cognitive development and adjustment to life overall.
Children who don’t have involved fathers are more likely to be violent, to drop out of school or to be abused.
Children don’t stay children forever, and fathers pass away. If fathers miss the critical bonding time that comes during a child’s early years, they will never be able to make it up.
The legal system can grant the wishes of children who only want a dad for Christmas right now. Hope is still there for fathers who miss their children.
And for the young fathers in their 20s and 30s, who have never experienced a death, and who have never realized how important their role is: Now is the time to learn.
Jeffery M. Leving is the author of “How to Be a Good Divorced Dad” and is chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood.